The 2022 Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival followed the compositional road to Johann Sebastian Bach through two events in March. “The Road to Bach” festival began with a lecture by Bienen School alumnus Stephen Spinelli ’19 DMA, assistant director of choral programs at Cornell University, and included a demonstration by the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble (BCE) and Callipygian Players, who performed musical excerpts to aid the presentation.
Both groups later presented a concert of five cantatas, tracing the creative inventions of German composers of the 17th and early 18th centuries. In addition to Bach, the program featured works by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Pachelbel, and Johann Schelle. “This concert was both a series of stories that composers chose to tell and the story of how those composers informed one another’s works,” said Donald Nally, director of choral organizations and conductor of BCE.
Though a primarily contemporary ensemble, BCE regularly encounters the influence of Renaissance and Baroque musicians, explained Nally: “We often talk about the relationships between eras—how one composer informs another. We’d have no Britten and Poulenc as we know them without Stravinsky. No Brahms without Beethoven. No Michael Gordon without Louis Andriessen. Exploring these relationships allows us to see the subtle ways in which music evolves over short and long spans of time.”
Since its founding in 1996, the Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival has provided exceptional opportunities for performers to prepare important masterworks with the guidance of leading scholars. Each festival combines informed performance and scholarly inquiry. Established through the generous support of Ruth Dunbar Davee and her husband, Ken M. Davee, the festival was named in memory of Ruth’s sister, Evelyn Dunbar, who was an enthusiastic participant in early-music ensembles at Northwestern.